Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Spotlight on Hunger: WYCD Interviews Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, in New York City.

This holiday season, What You Can Do is teaming up with Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen to help raise awareness and fight hunger in New York City. As 1 in every 5 New Yorkers face hunger, Holy Apostles plays a crucial role in providing food, support and hope to people in need.  

The What You Can Do team is based in New York, so we have the opportunity to collaborate with many organizations inspiring change throughout our city. Since fans watch What You Can Do from around the world, we thought this holiday season would be a good time to highlight different perspectives on hunger. More than 49 million Americans face hunger today, with over 15 million of that number being children. 

We interviewed representatives from food banks and hunger organizations across the country and in Canada, asking about involvement in their communities, services they offer, trends they are seeing in their communities etc. 

Our seventh and final spotlight is on Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, a hunger relief organization servicing the NYC region.

An interview with Yvonne Cassidy, Social Media and Direct Mail Officer for Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, in New York, NY.

WYCD:  Please tell us a little about your organization and the community that you serve.

Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen is the largest in New York City. We serve an average of 1,200 meals every day, with the help of 50-60 volunteers. More of our guests are homeless today than ever before. Almost 60% of our guests are homeless. 10% of our guests are in a temporary housing situation; staying with a friend, sleeping on a couch or house sitting. These people are at risk for becoming homeless. Coming to Holy Apostles can be looked at as a homeless prevention program because this way our guests do not have to spend money on food. We have all different types of people here; women, men, children, and a lot of veterans visit the soup kitchen. In over 30 years of service, no one has ever been turned away.

WYCD:  How long have you been in operation?

Holy Apostles has been in operation since October 1982. We are the longest serving soup kitchen in New York, as well as the largest.

WYCD:  What types of services do you provide to your community?

At Holy Apostles, we not only want to provide food to the body, but we want to provide food for the soul.  In addition to providing lunch every weekday, we provide an array of services including, blood pressure checks, HIV tests, toiletries, chiropractor, yoga, movie nights, and the writer’s workshop. Our newest addition is a small computer lab and computer class to help people learn to use the computers and work on their resumes to get back in the workplace. Every day, we have a team of four counselors on site who work with our guests on a variety of practical ways to help them on to a more manageable way of life off the soup kitchen line. Services our counselors provide include connecting guests with jobs, benefits, shelters, family members, offering haircuts, assistance with housing, food stamps, Metrocards and providing picture ID cards.

WYCD: Which services are the most popular and why do you think that is? 

It's hard to say as we have such a wide variety of people who come here with different needs. For those who are homeless, being able to use the soup kitchen as a mailing address or simply having access to a phone is important. IDs are also very popular as people living in shelters or on the street often have belongings stolen and you can't get ID if you don't have ID. For people who are unemployed, haircut vouchers, clothing and Metrocards are in high demand as these can help them in their job search.

WYCD:  Have the overall numbers of visitors changed in the last few years?

We served 34 meals on our first serving day in October 1982. At the time the soup kitchen was open 3 days a week. Within weeks, the numbers of meals served jumped to 300 a day. After a couple of months, we were serving 500 meals, 5 days a week. Today, we serve on average 1,200 meals a day. 1 in 5 New Yorkers are hungry, food stamps have just been cut - it's not surprising that our numbers are growing, but it's sad.

WYCD:  Has the demographic of your visitors changed over the last several years?

We've seen an increase in the number of people who are homeless coming here - we estimate about 60% of guests are homeless - as well as an increase in the number of people at risk of becoming homeless. Often this latter category will be college graduates who may be staying on a friend's couch or another temporary living situation while they are searching for work. Rent in New York is exorbitant, so they stay on a friend's couch and come to Holy Apostles to get a meal. It helps them get by until they can find a job. We’ve had business people who have been laid off, people who are hit with a medical expense, even a funeral. Holy Apostles helps people stretch their budget, because the alternative is homelessness.

WYCD:  What are the most prevalent issues in your community, and do you feel that this reflects the current trends around the region?

Homelessness is obviously a big issue in New York and it is on the increase here as it is in other cities around the US. Tonight, as you and I turn out our lights to sleep in our beds, 51,000 New Yorkers will be sleeping in shelters, not to mention the hundreds or maybe thousands more on the street. Hunger is a huge issue. 1 in 5 New Yorkers are hungry. Recent surveys show families in low income brackets cutting back on food to pay rent, utility bills etc. The recent cuts to Food Stamps are going to make things even harder for people all across America. We've already seen the impact here in the soup kitchen. Unemployment and underemployment are big issues for our guests. Our most recent survey shows over 90% of our guests are unemployed and the vast majority who come here are in their prime working years.

WYCD:  If you have volunteers, are you finding more people involved in helping out, and does it fluctuate throughout the year?

We have 50-60 volunteers every day. We have seniors, college students, school and corporate groups, people who come once a week, or once a month, or even every day. Thanksgiving and the holidays are especially popular. We start to book up in July for Thanksgiving and we usually have to cut this off a month or so in advance. It's wonderful to see such an outpouring of support at this time of year but hunger is a year round problem - you provide a meal for someone today and they are hungry again tomorrow. Our busiest months are actually during the summer when schools are out and more children and families come to the soup kitchen. Often we struggle getting volunteers in the summer as people are away on vacation so that's when we really need help.

WYCD:  Do you have special requests for the types of food/meals that you provide?

There's a huge focus among our chefs on providing a nutritious meal using local and in season produce. Many guests eat here every day so variety is important. In the last number of years we have revamped the menu and we no longer serve any processed foods. All grains on the menu are whole grains. For many guests, this is their only meal, so we ensure it is balanced to provide their nutritional requirements for a day. We provide a vegetarian meal for guests who don't eat meat. Unfortunately, beyond that we're not able to provide for special requirements due to the volume of meals we serve and the budgetary constraints under which we operate.

WYCD:  What are easy ways that your community can help out your organization even if they only have one minute of time to give? What if they have one hour to give?

In one minute you can "Like" us on Facebook - or follow us on Twitter - @HolyApostlesNYC.  This helps us get the word out about what we do and raise the profile of the soup kitchen. If you can only spare $1, that will cover the food costs for one meal for a guest. Over 90% of our donations are small donations from individuals. Every little bit helps..

Many thanks to Yvonne and her team at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen for sharing their insight on hunger in the New York City metro area with us.

We want to express our gratitude to all the organizations across the country and in Canada for sharing their perspectives on the fight against hunger. Though the holidays provide many opportunities to make a difference in our communities, we can continue to help our neighbors year round. By volunteering or donating to your local shelter or food bank, we can help erase hunger close to home and around the world. And remember even if you have one minute, you can help change the world.  

If you want to learn more about Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen and the work that they do, you can visit their website at:

To join What You Can Do in the mission to help change the world, one minute at a time,
please visit us at:

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